Ontario has taken away extra powers given to police services on Friday after backlash from members of the community, civil liberty groups, lawyers and front-line officers.

During Friday’s announcement that Ontario’s stay-at-home orders will remain in place until May 20 at the earliest, Premier Doug Ford noted police and by-law officers would be given ‘special authorities’ to further enforce the ongoing provincial public health orders.

They included giving the authority to require any individual to provide their home address and purpose for not being at their residence, which is still in effect, but Ontario also gave police the power to stop vehicles without reason to ask the driver why they’ve left their home and if it’s essential.

On Friday after Ford’s announcement, many police services across Ontario took to social media to say they wouldn’t be conducting the ‘random’ stops, and lawyers, politicians and mayors all expressed their concerns about possible discrimination that could come from the new powers.

Due to the backlash, Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones issued a statement on Saturday stating the measures have been changed, and officers will need to have ‘reason to suspect that you are participating in an organized public event or social gathering’ to stop you.

“Although the vast majority of Ontarians have respected the public health measures put in place, individuals continue to put others at risk by gathering with those outside of their household,” said Jones’ written statement.

“Our priority has always been to address and discourage gatherings and crowds that violate the Stay-at-Home Order and have the potential to further spread COVID-19. That is why we provided police services with the additional temporary authority to enforce the Stay-at-Home Order by putting a stop to gatherings and crowds.”

Prior to the change, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said they were preparing to take Ontario to court to challenge the announced regulations. Now, they’re welcoming Ontario’s amendments.

“The new order rationalizes and narrows the unconstitutional Friday standard. The new standard is also tied to a public health objective, and avoids arbitrary detention,” states former Ontario Attorney General and CCLA Executive Director, Michael Bryant.

“It means people should return to being as free as they were before this happened. That may be a freedom wrongly curbed by racial profiling, police bias and discrimination, against which we will continue to fight.”

Now, officer Jason Canfield with the Kenora OPP confirms police are able to ask people for their home address, but that’s more of a focus for the OPP’s provincial border checkpoints, opposed to ‘random’ stops.

“Right now, to cross into Ontario, we are stopping everybody in a personal vehicle and asking their reason for travel. We’re not going to be pulling people over at random to check why they’re out of their house. We’re not looking to charge anyone. We’re hoping to educate people before we do any sort of enforcement.”

Ontario introduced provincial border checkpoints at the Manitoba and Quebec borders as of April 19, manned by OPP personnel, that will only allow residents to travel into Ontario for essential reasons such as work, healthcare, transportation of goods or exercising Aboriginal or treaty rights.

Despite the recent changes, officers will still have the ability to issue tickets to those who:

- Aren’t complying with the stay-at-home orders,
- Those not wearing face coverings indoors where required,
- Fining companies who don’t enforce these restrictions,

Refusal to comply with the orders can lead to a $750 fine for a resident, $1,000 for corporations not following an order, and $1,000 for anyone that prevents an enforcement officer from performing their duties to enforce the orders.

Officers also have the ability to temporarily close a premises to stop a gathering.

Restrictions that remain in place in Ontario include:

- Indoor social gatherings / public events are prohibited,
- Outdoor social gatherings / public events are limited to 5 people – limited to members of your own household and one other person who lives alone,
- Religious, wedding and funeral services are limited to 10 people indoors or outdoors,
- The closure of all non-essential workplaces in the construction sector,
- Reduced capacity limits to 25 percent for in-store shopping,

Extra police powers weren’t the only thing that changed from Friday’s announcement. Ford announced playgrounds and recreational amenities would be closed, which has since been reversed.

Everyone is still asked to work remotely when possible and to only leave their home for essential reasons such as: going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with a positive case of the virus should immediately self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.